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Championship

Leeds United pulling plug on Joel Ekstrand deal has been vindicated

The Swede’s latest chapter is about to begin with new club AIK.

Mathew Nash

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In the summer of 2016 Leeds United were looking into the signing of Swedish defender Joel Ekstrand.

It was a move that made perfect sense considering the talent of the player who had been a stalwart in Championship high-flying Watford for three seasons.

However, any team who signed Ekstrand knew they would be taking on a risk.

The Swede has missed the entire 2015-16 season with a serious knee injury and, in the end, that seemed to stop the Leeds move going through.

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

It left the player livid. Ekstrand told the story to Helsingborg Dagblad, claiming Leeds were trying to use his knee injury against him, so he pulled out of negotiations:

“I was offered a contract after the medical examination.

“Afterwards the negotiations were tough. The survey found that my knees looked different, which is obvious when one knee has been operated on for a cruciate ligament injury. They tried to use it against me. Therefore, it was as it was.”

In the end, Leeds snapped up Pontus Jansson that summer from Torino, and it is fair to say the latter Swede has had a better two years since.

Whilst Ekstrand was angry and frustrated with Leeds holding his injury record against him it looks like a justified opinion nearly two years on.

The 29-year-old has only played four times since his move to Leeds fell through.

(Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Ekstrand joined Bristol City that summer but featured just two times for the Robins before leaving in January, joining Rotherham United on a six-month deal.

He featured in a 5-0 thrashing against Cardiff City last February and did not play for Rotherham again.

Injuries have continued to blight the defender’s progress, which is a massive shame for a player with bags of Championship experience and potential.

Now Ekstrand is about to embark on a career rescue mission back in Sweden, after joining AIK Solna in January.

He made his debut for the club earlier this month in a Swedish Cup game v Halmstad, coming on for five minutes as a substitute.

The Swedish league gets underway for AIK today, as they take on newly promoted Dalkurd.

Ekstrand is officially listed as an injury doubt for the game so it appears his luck is still to change.

Leeds fans would have loved a fit and fighting Ekstrand at the heart of their defence throughout the past two seasons.

Unfortunately, he has simply not been able to stay fit long enough to recapture his excellent form from his Watford days.

Hopefully, he can get back to full fitness soon at AIK and put his name back on the map this season.

Sports journalist based in Bristol. Previously spent five years writing for HITC Sport. Everton fan for my sins.

Nottingham Forest

The Nottingham Forest starting line-up that could challenge for promotion

Nottingham Forest will undoubtedly be looking to challenge for promotion next season.

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Nottingham Forest
Photo: Getty Images

It is safe to say that the Championship is one of the most competitive leagues in world football and that means that prior to the 2018/19 campaign getting underway several teams will be considering their promotion chances.

Nottingham Forest have spent big this summer in an attempt to arrest some mediocre form of recent seasons and make a genuine assault on securing a place among the country’s elite in the Premier League.

Spanish boss Aitor Karanka is the man tasked with reviving the East Midlands-based club and his nine signings so far this summer have gone a long way towards suggesting that he means business during 2018/19.

After years of boardroom mismanagement the Reds are now showcasing a togetherness throughout the club that hasn’t been evident in former years and that is a trait that can only bode well on the pitch, as the club looks to move forwards.

Although it will be a tough task for the Reds to plot a promotion push next season, there is now genuine belief within the camp that the squad possesses enough talent challenge in the higher echelons of the division.

With that in mind, we take a look at the potential Forest starting line-up that would make them genuine Championship promotion contenders.

GK – Costel Pantilimon

The Romanian goalkeeper arrived back at the City Ground on a permanent deal this summer after impressing during a loan spell during the second half of the 2017/18 campaign.

Every promotion chasing side needs a solid custodian and in signing the ex-Manchester City man the Reds have now ensured that they will have one of the very best goalkeepers in the division next season.

The 31-year-old built up a solid rapport with the Forest faithful during his time at the City Ground last season and a tremendous double save against Derby County still lives in the memory of the club’s supporters.

RB – Sam Byram

The former Leeds United defender hasn’t checked-in at the City Ground just yet but if the reports doing the rounds are to be believed, the 24-year-old could soon be a Nottingham Forest player.

Byram is down the pecking order at the London Stadium and their new boss Manuel Pellegrini is keen to offload certain players in his squad to make room for new additions.

Tendayi Darikwa is Forest’s only senior right-back at the moment and it is imperative that the club sign another one ahead of the season kicking-off.

The former Burnley man was in decent form for Forest at the back end of last season but if a coup like Byram can be pulled off, it seems highly likely that he will get the nod to start the campaign.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

CB – Michael Dawson

Aitor Karanka delighted the Nottingham Forest faithful earlier in the summer by completing the free transfer of fan favourite Michael Dawson, who checked-in following his release from Hull City.

Dawson had pushed to return to the City Ground during the January transfer window but a deal couldn’t be struck between the two clubs leading to a delay in the inevitable switch.

Although Dawson is now 34-years-old he will still be a massive player for Forest next season and his leadership skills and vast experience could prove invaluable attributes as the Reds hope to push towards the top end of the Championship.

CB – Tobias Figueiredo

The Portuguese central defender has turned his loan move into a permanent one this summer and it is a transfer which has given Forest supporters genuine hope of challenging for a place in the top six.

When Aitor Karanka raided Sporting Lisbon for his services back in January, some Forest fans questioned who the 24-year-old was and saw the central defender as a bit of a gamble considering his lack of experience in English football.

It was clear once the youngster was unleashed on the Championship, however, that he had the required quality to be a good signing for the club. Figueiredo faces a race against time to be fit for Forest’s opening game of the 2018/19 campaign, but nonetheless he looks set to be a big player for the club over the next nine months.

LB – Jack Robinson

The former Liverpool trainee arrived at the City Ground on a free transfer this summer following his release from Queens Park Rangers where he had been an key member of their team last season.

The 24-year-old played 31 times for the R’s last season at central defence but it seems likely that Forest boss Aitor Karanka will view Robinson as more of a left-back for the Reds.

The left-hand side of the back four has been a problematic area in recent seasons for Forest and although Ben Osborn filled in admirably last season, it would seem logical that Karanka will look for a more natural solution during 2018/19.

(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

CM – Ben Watson

Aitor Karanka pulled off a major coup when he completed the signing of Ben Watson on a free transfer back in February and the ex-Watford man is firmly established as the Forest captain.

Watson worked tirelessly hard in the middle of the park during the second half of last season and on his day he is still one of the Championship’s very best midfielders.

The 32-year-old is the epitome of the sort of players that Aitor Karanka wants at Nottingham Forest and his experience of winning promotion previously could prove crucial in the Reds’ push for a place in the Premier League.

CM – Jack Colback

If you believe what you read in the newspaper then the Reds are set to complete the loan signing of Newcastle United midfielder Jack Colback in a deal which is sure to delight the majority of Forest supporters.

The 28-year-old made 16 appearances for the Reds last season during a loan spell with the club and the partnership he struck up with Ben Watson was particularly impressive.

If Forest can field Watson and Colback alongside each other again next season it would give them one of the most organised midfield pairing in the whole of the second tier.

(Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

RW – Gil Dias

The 20-year-old arrived at the City Ground this summer on a season-long loan from French giants Monaco and he comes with a reputation as a star of the future.

The man who spent last season on loan with Fiorentina opened his Forest account this week by netting a superb solo goal in a 3-0 win over Malaga, dancing through four challenges before slipping the ball under the advancing custodian to instantly excite the club’s supporters.

Forest have signed a number of attacking talents this summer and it seems likely that Dias will get the nod to start on the right-wing ahead of academy graduate Matty Cash, who showed some promise in a similar role last season.

AMC – João Carvalho

Forest smashed their transfer record this summer when they paid £13.2 million for Portuguese prospect João Carvalho and the club will naturally be eager to see their record purchase smash the Championship to pieces.

The 21-year-old has arrived at the City Ground from Benfica where he tasted experience of playing in the Champions League and all eyes will be on Carvalho in the early stages of next season as he looks to adapt to the Championship.

Carvalho is comfortable on the ball and he is also capable of playing in a number of attacking positions, although it seems very likely that he will start the campaign in a number ten role.

LW – Joe Lolley

Given his impressive performances at the back end of last season it seems probable that Aitor Karanka will keep faith with Lolley when it comes to picking his team for the start of the 2018/19 campaign.

Forest secured the services of highly-rated Portuguese youngster Diogo Gonçalves this summer, so if Lolley is to get the nod to begin the season he will need to ensure that his performances maintain the consistency which they did at the back end of last season if he is to keep hold of his place.

The 25-year-old ex-Huddersfield Town man can really ignite his career at Nottingham Forest and the club’s supporters have already warmed to him following his arrival at the City Ground in January.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

ST – Lewis Grabban

Forest flexed their financial muscle by forking out £6 million to bring the prolific Lewis Grabban to the City Ground, in a deal which will have undoubtedly made the rest of the Championship stand up and take notice.

The 30-year-old talisman notched 20 times last season in loan spells at Sunderland and then Aston Villa, where his form helped them to the Championship play-off final.

Forest struggled desperately for goals during last season and their supporters will be ecstatic that Aitor Karanka has finally nailed down a clinical striker with proven ability of scoring in the Championship.

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Sunderland

Mohamed Eisa could be Sunderland’s answer to Jamie Vardy

The Sudanese striker has been in goalscoring form his entire footballing career.

Mathew Nash

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Sunderland look in pole position to sign Mohamed Eisa from Cheltenham Town this summer. As reported by the Roker Report yesterday, Sunderland made a seven-figure bid for the player last week. That has since been reported by the Sunderland Echo to be in the region of £1 million and would be an excellent piece of business from the Black Cats.

Sunderland desperately need a new striker. The club are lacking any real striking options other than youngster Josh Maja.

Eisa has been in fine form for Cheltenham. Last season he scored 25 goals in 50 games for the League Two side in his debut Football League season.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

There are of course reservations over his footballing background. The Sudanese-born Londoner has never played above League Two level. He came through the non-league ranks with Dartford, Corinthian and Greenwich Borough – never receiving any ‘formal’ academy football training.

But his raw talent could be enough to carry him through to success at Sunderland. The 24-year-old has a career record of 98 goals in 161 games.

That is comparable to Charlie Austin, who made his name with the likes of Hungerford Town, Poole Town and Swindon before heading for the big leagues. The best example, however, is probably Jamie Vardy.

Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town is where he cut his teeth. Now he is an England international, Premier League winner and record breaker.

Sunderland will be aware this is a gamble but, as evident, those gambles can pay off. If Eisa goes on to become their very own Jamie Vardy, then £1 million will look a bargain in the years to come.

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Leeds United

Leeds United round-up: Vydra wants Premier League, Omeruo comments and Bounedjah no-go

All the latest news and gossip from Leeds United.

Mathew Nash

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Vydra woe

Another stumbling block has emerged in Leeds United’s attempts to sign Matej Vydra this summer. As reported by The Sun, the Czech Republic forward is waiting on a potential move to the Premier League.

Whilst he is keen on a £11 million move to Leeds, and his club Derby are prepared to sell, the 26-year-old is also wary that it might be time to try his talents in the Premier League again.

The former West Brom and Watford attacker was the Championship’s top-scorer last season.

(Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Omeruo to follow?

Nigerian international defender Kenneth Omeruo has sparked talk of a Leeds United move, after commenting on new Leeds signing Jamal Blackman’s Instagram.

As reported by The 72, Omeruo commented ‘wait for me’ on Blackman’s post.

That has led many to wonder if he might be West Yorkshire bound.

Considering Leeds have also signed Lewis Baker on loan from Chelsea this summer, then a deal for former Middlesbrough loanee Omeruo is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Deal pulled

Leeds United have ended their interest in Baghdad Bounedjah. The Algerian paper L’Expression reports that the Al Sadd striker was simply too expensive for Leeds.

The Qatari club wanted a fee in the region of £13.25 million for the player, who scored 25 goals in 19 games last season.

But considering his lack of European experience, Leeds were not willing to pay the quoted price.

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